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Best Practices in SharePoint Migration

Author: Mo Anwar | | July 11, 2018

Is your organization looking at a SharePoint migration? Migrating from older versions of SharePoint, network file shares, and other sources into SharePoint 2016 or SharePoint Online can be a daunting but rewarding initiative.


In order to complete a successful migration from a network drive or an older SharePoint platform to SharePoint 2016 or SharePoint Online will take some planning and analysis. The execution of the migration is relatively small when compared to the planning and analysis. However, this is one of those projects where carefully planning really results in a successful execution.

Organizations need to know that aren’t constrained by a limited migration approach. A migration is a perfect opportunity for organizations to audit their content and clean up what is irrelevant to the organization. The existence of more relevant content will break the existing silos that exist within content so that all users including end-users, developers and administrators will benefit with improved findability of the content. The migration of previously existing business content into SharePoint 2016 is a big endeavor.

Organizations should preferably discover and audit existing content followed by creating the information architecture to improve upon the existing model. Testing is a must and should be done before and after migration to minimize risk. The following diagram and subsequent sections describe the process to perform a successful migration.


The first step in the process is to discover and audit the content to be migrated. This will provide a clear understanding of what exists and what will be migrated. This will help flush out duplicate files, identify the content, and define metadata. This stage will also identify any customizations on the site. We create several reports to assist with this tedious process.


Based on what was discovered in the previous step, the next step involved figuring out what to do with it. Migration is the perfect time to modify and improve the information architecture. This step will identify the who (permissions), what (type of documents/data and metadata), where (sites/libraries/lists) for the information to be migrated to SharePoint 2016 / SharePoint Online. This is the most important step in the process and will take the longest to complete.


Once the content and customizations have been identified and the information architecture is defined, the next step is to prepare the content and customizations for migration. This involves defining the process (scripts) to migrate the content into the new SharePoint farm. This will also involve the business users cleaning up the content (i.e, identifying the metadata and document/data types when the migration of the content is executed. Testing the whole process and verifying the results is extremely important before moving onto the Execute step.


Now the SharePoint Administrators can execute the scripts to physically copy the content to the correct place and resolve any issues that may result.


The business users will perform a final verification of the migration before the system is allowed to go live.

Once the execution is verified, the business may choose to keep the previous version of the content accessible in read-only format for a time period to ease the transition to the new version of SharePoint.

Recommended Best Practices

There are several methods to migrate content to SharePoint.

  • Manual migration (SharePoint On-premise & Online)
  • Use of 3rd party software (SharePoint On-premise & Online)
  • Content Database move (only for On-premise version)

Manual migration is fairly straight forward. It is just taking content out of one version of SharePoint and putting it into the new version of SharePoint. The drawbacks to this approach is it is labor intensive and requires a lot of user interaction. In addition, if you are tagging content while you are migrating, it adds a significant amount of manual effort to tag the content. Another drawback is that the date created and created by information will be updated with the current user who is uploading the document and the uploaded time.  The original creation date would be lost. Also, the version history would be lost.

There are good third-party tools (Metalogix, AvePoint, Sharegate etc.) that have migration tools. There are lots of benefits to this approach. Most of these tools have up front analysis capabilities, which aids the identification of content to be migrated. It also allows for gradual migrations, migrations of structure, workflows, permissions that support the content, migrate from SharePoint 2003, 2007, 2010 or 2013, modify your site structure before you migrate and allow the migration tool to migrate to the appropriate destinations. These tools have a cost associated usually a per GB transferred or number of users using the tool.

A content database migration allows SharePoint 2013 content databases to be copied/moved from the SharePoint 2013 farm to the SharePoint 2016 farm. It is then associated with the appropriate web application/site collection and upgraded and then each site collection can be upgraded when the agency is ready. This can only be done from a SharePoint 2013 farm to a SharePoint 2016 farm. Any older version of SharePoint would have to be upgraded to SharePoint 2010 and then SharePoint 2013 to perform this type of migration. Therefore, additional farms will have to be stood up to perform these migrations.

Any custom solutions would have to be migrated (recompiled, etc.) before the content is migrated.

Migrations can happen at any time and agencies do not have to migrate everything at the same time. Each agency can migrate at a pace and method that fits their organization.

The recommended approach is to use a third-party migration tool. This provides the most flexibility. It will allow agency to migrate when they are ready, be able to script the migration, perform the actual migration during off hours if necessary, and provides the ability to clean-up and modify the information architecture.

For additional SharePoint resources please click here.

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